light into ashes
Jan 28, 2014 7:19pm
Garcia in the background...
Garcia once said he was happiest just being a sideman, and that he wasn't comfortable being the 'frontman.' He even said in one '70s interview that the reason he'd written all those songs for the Dead was just because the other guys weren't writing much, so he felt the songwriting burden was on him, but he considered it a chore! "I'm not a songwriter."
But he also kept urging the other bandmembers to step up front more.
From a 1972 Crawdaddy interview with Weir:
"Bob Weir, the youngest of the Dead's original lineup, is moving to the forefront... [He] is coming on stronger onstage...and his songs are beginning to be featured by the band more frequently.
Weir attributes his ascension to Jerry Garcia's desire to take a back seat. 'Garcia's mighty tired of it, I'll tell you,' he told me.
'Garcia pushes him out there a lot,' his little lady Frankie added.
'Yeah, he's like the devil's pitchfork.' Bob mimicked Garcia: 'You go out there and tell them a story.'"
This sounds a lot like how Tom Constanten described Garcia's relationship with Pigpen:
"Jerry did some things to make Pigpen feel included, like featuring his songs and encouraging him. The perception I had was that Jerry was always encouraging him, and he felt that Pigpen's thing should have a platform in the band context."
Merl Saunders was even asked in a Relix interview:
"Do you think Ron was pushed into the background...?"
Merl: "Jerry would never push Ron into the background."
Garcia sometimes mentioned his role of pushing Pigpen upfront: "Pigpen was not a guy who wanted to be a performer. I had to practically force him to perform... The ironic thing was he hated it – it really meant nothing to him; it wasn’t what he liked. We had to browbeat him into being a performer."
Donna no doubt got the same kind of encouragement... While I don't know much about Garcia's relationship with Brent, I suspect it followed a similar dynamic of Garcia encouraging Brent to write & sing whatever he wanted for the Dead. He said in '81, "Brent is a talented guy. I hope he gets a chance to get his stuff going. He's a good writer, he writes nice songs. He needs to relax, and to get a non-interference relationship going with Weir."
Non-interference was of course one of Garcia's main mottos in the Dead... But it seems there are a lot of aspects of the Dead that happened because he kept encouraging others in the band to step up and contribute more. So he wouldn't have to lead as much!
It wasn't just within the Dead, though; there are a lot of stories of him encouraging other musicians to "get their stuff going" and play their music the way they wanted.